The US Air Force on 28 January announced Boeing’s four-engined 747-8 Intercontinental airliner will serve as the next Air Force One, besting the Airbus A380 as the next generation of aircraft specially outfitted to carry the US president.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James says “the Boeing 747-8 is the only aircraft manufactured in the United States that, when fully missionised, meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission, while reflecting the office of the president of the United States of America consistent with the national public interest.”
The Air Force intends to purchase up to three 747-8s, but has not yet formalised a contract with Boeing. The decision was made through a “determinations and findings” document.
When Air Force officials launched the presidential aircraft recapitalisation programme more than a year ago, they considered holding a competition to select a contractor to transform the civilian airliner’s interior and systems into Air Force One.
The service now intends to award Boeing a sole-source contract to modify the aircraft with subsystems that “must seamlessly interface with each other and the 747-8 commercial aircraft systems in order to meet the Presidential ‘no fail’ mission.”
Air force documents say Boeing was selected for the systems integration work because other companies “would face significant challenges” securing Federal Aviation Administration approval of the completed airraft.
The new 747-8s will replace the current 747-200 aircraft, designated by the air force as the VC-25, that serve as Air Force One when the president is aboard.
Boeing will manage, design, test, certify and provide pre-operational training for up to three aircraft.
The announcement is a huge boost for Boeing’s commercial production line for the 747-8, which is exclusively powered by General Electric GEnx-2B engine.
At current production rates, Boeing will deliver the last 747-8 now under contract in early 2017. There typically is an 18-month lead time to place a new order without a work stoppage at the final assembly stage. Unless Boeing receives further orders for the passenger or freighter versions of the 747-8,the air force would need to finalise a contract by the end of 2015 to avoid a costly break in production.
Boeing delivered both VC-25s as the last two 747-200s off the production line in 1990.
The Air Force already knew it would need a four-engine, wide-body aircraft to meet the needs of the Air Force One mission, which carries the president on long-haul journeys and serves as a command post during emergencies. The Air Force in 2007 first approached Airbus for information on the A380 and Lockheed about the C-5. Airbus subsequently declined to offer the A380 for the competition, saying it would be impractical to set up final assembly in the USA.